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Behind The Scenes Of The Art World: An Interview With Momart
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Behind The Scenes Of The Art World: An Interview With Momart

Picture of Dan Einav
Updated: 12 December 2015
Over the last 40 years, London-based Momart has been working behind the scenes of the art world, transporting and installing some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures, including the Elgin Marbles and a 37 meter long Viking ship. We met up with the Head of Exhibitions Coordination, Julie Prance, to talk about Momart’s work, their collaborations with artists, and their role in the highly anticipated Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy in October.
© Momart
© Momart

Momart handles thousands of pieces of art every year, working alongside the likes of The Tate, MOMA, The Guggenheim and many other galleries. Can you tell us a bit about the spectrum of projects that you oversee?

We cover a really broad range of projects and work on anything from setting up an individual painting in someone’s home to bespoke installations and large-scale monuments and exhibitions such as the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and the upcoming Ai Weiwei retrospective at the Royal Academy. We’re already in double figures for projects lined up for the next exhibition season, as well as seven or eight art fairs.

How much time do you typically spend planning before you start working on an installation?

The whole process is a lengthy one. We occasionally begin budgeting up to five years ahead of an exhibition, and our full-on coordinative planning can take anything from between a year to a couple of months, depending on the scale of project. For the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy last year, we started having meetings a year before it opened to work out how to get certain paintings which were bigger than the doors into the gallery. That was a challenge!

Do you relish large-scale projects like that?

It’s really exciting and a bit daunting. It’s a privilege to be involved in the process of setting up an installation and then to be able to see it on display. The adrenaline is all part of it and I like solving any challenges and making sure everything gets done on time and within the budget.

What are some challenges you’re facing with the upcoming Ai Weiwei exhibition?

There’s a piece called Straight which is made from the steel remnants taken from the rubble of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which weighs about 90 tons. The gallery first needs to work out whether their floor can take that weight before they confirm with us to transport the art work to them in smaller consignments.

© Momart
© Momart

Has Ai Weiwei’s inability to leave China been a hindrance?

There’s been a lot of communication between Ai Weiwei and the Royal Academy’s team. Our technicians have been working in collaboration with the gallery’s and the artist’s own studio workers. There’s expertise across all areas to take all the challenges into account.

Do you usually work closely with the artists themselves?

There’s always a collaborative element, if not always with the artist themselves then with their key studio personnel. Anthony Gormley is often present on projects such as his recent LAND 50 installations around the UK, but different artists require different levels of involvement. Some artists just let us get on with it and others, like Anish Kapoor who we collaborated with recently, work closely with our team to deliver projects from start to finish.

How do you go about building a relationship of trust with the artists whose work you handle?

We have a team of technical experts who have a lot of experience and who can talk with the artist about the nature of the materials used in each artwork. There’s lots of conversation to find out what the artist expects and what they need, and we have to reassure them that we can deliver that.

In the last few years we had an artist who had some strict requirements about how his paintings were handled based on what he’d done previously, but he was open to the advice of our expert team, some of whom have over 40 years’ experience in the arts, and appreciate the specificities of each individual project. Ultimately he understood the reasons we had to create a bespoke case for his work and the project went very well. He’s since come to us with more projects. It’s important to reassure the artist and give them examples of things we’ve done in the past. It’s our job to understand the intricacies and logistical angles of any given project and to support the artist by removing any concerns.

Momart handles some of the most famous artworks in the world, worth tens of millions of pounds. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by that?

Occasionally at the outset of a project you have a ‘wow’ moment, but if we got overwhelmed every time we handled a Monet or a Picasso then we wouldn’t be any good at our job! You need a cool head to do this kind of work. We make sure to treat everything with the requisite care, attention and respect that it needs.

© Ai Weiwei
© Ai Weiwei

Your slogan is “Moved By Art” – do you think that Momart’s success has been partially due to the company’s sincere passion for art?

It’s a strong advantage for us that we have such passionate staff. Everyone across the company is enthusiastic and has the determination to solve the problems that any given artwork poses. Regardless of background and experience, everyone cares about what they do and understands the importance of the job.

Can you reveal what else you’re working on at the moment?

The Ai Weiwei exhibition is definitely one of the most exciting projects we’ve done for a while and it’s great for us to have this relationship with the Royal Academy. We’re working on the upcoming Alexander Calder exhibition at the Tate in London and we recently helped with the Jackson Pollock exhibition at Tate Liverpool. There’s a Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery coming up too and the Frieze art fair will keep us busy in October. We’re also collaborating with the V&A’s touring “Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion” exhibition which is perhaps for a more specific market! It’s an exciting time for Momart.

Is it time for Momart to maybe step out from the shadows?

There’s so much to tell about what happens behind the scenes at Momart. It’s not just about transport and packaging; it’s a really varied team who have worked on a hugely impressive broad spectrum of projects. We’re looking at how the art-moving world is growing alongside the art world itself. With art becoming increasingly accessible with free gallery admissions across the UK in particular, I think people are now more curious to know about this dimension of the art scene; there’s definitely an expanding interest in what goes on in the background and how artworks end up where they do.

Momart’s famous for its annual Christmas card designed by a renowned artist. Who would you like to feature in the future?

At the moment I’d have to say Ai Weiwei but I’m not sure that it’s feasible! It’s a very prestigious list of artists who’ve done it in the past including Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst, and I think it speaks volumes of the relationships that we’ve had with artists that we’re able to get them on board to make art for us.